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The Evolution of the Right to Property in India: From a Law and Development Perspective

Rashmi Venkatesan

Abstract

Property rights are contentious in any jurisdiction. But the right to property in India, adopted as a fundamental right in Article 31 of the Constitution of the India, 1950 (“Article”), has had a particularly tumultuous legal and political history. It holds the distinction of being the second most debated Article in the Constituent Assembly, the most amended provision of the Constitution and the only fundamental right to ever be deleted. The history of the Article is commonly understood as arising from an ideological institutional conflict between a Parliament in pursuit of socialism and a judiciary safeguarding individual freedoms. However, looking at the Article and its initial amendments from a “law and development” perspective provides a critique of the current narrative of “conflict” and offers an alternative interpretation of the history of Article 31. The paper argues that rather than arising from the pursuit of either authoritarian socialist planning or an egalitarian social revolution, the travails of the Article came in the context of India’s quest for economic modernity through a process of “passive revolution”. The powers of eminent domain reinforced in the Article empowered the state to modernise economic relations in industry and agriculture by restructuring a semi-feudal pre-capitalist property rights regime established during colonialism along productive capitalist lines. In this process, the Article helped to consolidate the powers of the developmental state in the domain of economic policy; forged the relationship between state, market and the individual; and helped shape the regime of private property rights in India. Understanding the evolution of the fundamental right to property in India therefore, not only tells a key part of India’s development story but also contributes to the “law and development” literature by assimilating diverse historical experiences within its framework, which, as critics have long argued, tends to have a strong Eurocentric bias.


Corresponding author: Rashmi Venkatesan, Assistant Professor (Law), National Law School of India University, Nagarbhavi, Bengaluru 560 072, Karnataka, India, E-mail:

Acknowledgment

The author would like to thank Aman Saumil Vasavada for his diligent research and assistance in writing this paper. The author is also immensely grateful to the reviewer, editor and Prof. Jennifer Beard for their comments and feedback on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Published Online: 2020-11-19
Published in Print: 2021-01-27

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